#WeRaceAsOne: Formula 1, equality and diversity

Photo by José Pablo Domínguez on Unsplash.

The murder of George Floyd on 25th May 2020 led to international outcry and gave rise to protests, across the United States and the United Kingdom, demanding equality for the Black community. The events of May 2020 have had a prominent effect on many and have encouraged various industries to look at equality and inclusivity in their work forces. Formula 1 Driver Lewis Hamilton was particularly moved by the murder of Floyd, stating on his Twitter “The injustice that we are seeing…MUST stop.” Hamilton became the foreman for the fight against inequality in his sport, but how far has Formula 1 really come in the past year?

We Race As One Initiative

Formula 1 had already launched their sustainability strategy in November 2019, which also included aims to improve diversity within the sport. In June 2020, they announced their #WeRaceAsOne initiative to address such vital issues, stating “it will not be a one week or one-year theme that disappears as issues disappear from headlines”.

So, a year on, where does the #WeRaceAsOne initiative stand? One visual element of the initiative, which began in Austria in July 2020, was a display of support for key workers and individuals, as well as a display of support for the fight against racism, upon the #WeRaceAsOne logo at the front of the grid. Since this first display of support there have been some hiccups in the organisation of this element, but these have since been ironed out and the visual support for vital issues is a key part of each race weekend. Drivers have gone on to use this as an opportunity to display support for a variety of issues, such as LGBTQ+ rights and sustainability, as well as racism.

However, at a recent race, the Hungarian GP 30th July - 1st August, German driver Sebastian Vettel was called to the stewards’ office for not removing his rainbow t-shirt that stated “same love” before the national anthem. Vettel stated that he innocently forgot to remove the t-shirt as it had started to rain. Furthermore, other drivers were also reprimanded for not removing their #WeRaceAsOne shirts. Does this show that Formula 1 still has a way to go in tackling issues such as inequality? Or does it simply highlight yet more logistical errors that they need to iron out in their displays of support for these issues?

Following the launch of the initiative and a personal contribution of $1 million by the Non-Executive Chairman Chase Carey, Formula 1 has introduced three further initiatives to increase diversity in the sport. First, they will provide 10 engineering scholarships for students from underrepresented groups. Next, they will place 2 individuals from underrepresented groups in long term apprenticeships within the organisation in the year 2021. Lastly, 6 interns from underrepresented groups will be offered roles across the organisation in the year 2021. While the effect and impact of these initiatives cannot yet be measured, it suggests that a year on from the initial launch of the #WeRaceAsOne initiative, Formula 1 are just as committed to increasing diversity and tackling world issues both inside and outside the sport. However, it has been proven we need to push organisations to continue taking action and to enact real impact.

Hamilton Commission

As stated above, one driver particularly moved by the murder of George Floyd was Lewis Hamilton. As the only Black driver currently on the Formula 1 grid he has led the way in pushing the sport to do better with their inclusivity and equality. Hamilton used his influence as a seven-time world champion to set up a task force in order to not only tackle the underrepresentation of Black people in UK motorsport, but tackle similar issues in the STEM sector.  After ten months of research, the Hamilton Commission published its report ‘Accelerating Change: Improving Representation of Black People in UK Motorsport’ in July 2021, in association with The Royal Academy of Engineering. In the report it is estimated that the proportion of Black people in Formula 1 is less than 1%. The report also states that ‘in 2019 Black People accounted for just 2% of engineering apprentices’. Not only does the report point out systemic issues but it also gets to the core of them, realising that the education of Black people in STEM subjects is the starting point of a potential career in Formula 1 and that the inequality and lack of diversity needs to be resolved here first.

At the start of the report it states ten recommendations and goes on to integrate them into their findings throughout. The recommendations are split into three categories: support and empowerment; accountability and measurement; inspiration and engagement. The first category (support and empowerment) focuses on “engendering a sense of agency among young Black people and supporting progression to engineering careers.” It recommends more apprenticeships and work experience, an exclusions innovation fund, new approaches to increase Black teachers in STEM subjects, targeted support for Black students in post-16 education and scholarship programmes for Black graduates.

The second category (accountability and measurement) targets the “accountability of those in authority, evidenced through consistent collection and sharing of data.” The report suggests that motorsport implements a Diversity and Inclusion Charter to improve diversity, that the promotion of the National Education Union Anti-Racism Charter for schools is supported and that the Department for Education is called upon to make data more easily accessible.

The final category (inspiration and engagement) concentrates on “enabling young Black people to visualise what these careers involve and see themselves in these roles.” It recommends the development of guidance inspiring students in STEM subjects and additional STEM activity support.

What does the commission and its report mean for motorsport? Well, it means there is tangible research into the issues at play in the industry and there are recommendations, bolstered by facts and figures, that could help to move the sport forward in terms of world issues. Nevertheless, the report has not long been published and the effects of it may take a while to come to fruition, as many of these systemic issues cannot be solved overnight. It is, though, a step in the right direction.

The Future

As Formula 1 stated themselves, this is not a one-year theme, it is an issue that will continue to need work and thought for years to come. While the #WeRaceAsOne initiative is a step in the right direction and the Hamilton Commission makes insightful and tangible recommendations and findings, it is yet to be seen if these approaches can make a serious impact on the diversity and equality in Formula 1 and other motorsports. What is clear is, as a society, we must continually push businesses and organisations to improve the equality and diversity within themselves because no one deserves to be treated with prejudice.